Why We Started the Going Merry Scholarships App: The Origin Story

If there’s a Common App to apply to multiple schools at once, why isn’t there a way to apply for multiple scholarships at once? That was my question as I started to search for scholarships for a second time, this time for graduate school. A quick look on the leading scholarship sites suggested there was $24 billion awarded every year. In fact, they even “matched” me with 53 scholarships offering more than $200,000.

But all they did was list the scholarships. To actually apply, I had to click 53 links to be redirected to 53 different sites. I had to re-enter the same information 53 times, as I started each application from scratch; and I had to wait for 53 e-mails to see if I had been successful. Worse, and predictably, the easiest of the 53 were scams. I still don’t know what they did with the data I entered.

My friend, Ray, was even more frustrated.  That same year, 2016, he was searching for scholarships for the third time, to help his wife Jenny fund graduate school.  In the fifteen years since his first scholarship search, nothing had changed. Even the best scholarship websites were still selling student data, redirecting students to sketchy sites around the internet.  

It made no sense. How much else has changed in those 15 intervening years? The iPhone launched. Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, and Uber were created.

And yet, there was no progress on the scholarships front–despite the fact that students now need education funding more than ever before. (Since 2000, college tuition has continuously increased, outpacing any growth in family income.)

A better way: One App for All Scholarships

So Ray and I decided it was time to create a better solution–to build a simple scholarship search and application platform, similar to what the Common App did for college admissions.

In August 2016, we launched our first version of Going Merry with three San Francisco Bay Area high schools. Here’s how the system worked:

  • After signing up, students filled out a brief profile, and then were matched with only quality scholarships they were eligible for.
  • Our platform then automatically filled in each scholarship application with the students’ profile information.
  • Students only needed to augment this pre-filled application with the scholarship essays, and sometimes, answer a few additional questions. They never had to answer the same question twice.

In the end, students applied to five times as many scholarships as the previous class did, and their counselor described it as the easiest platform they’d ever used.

Since those first three California schools, we’ve grown to work with 10,000 high schools across the U.S. We’ve also partnered with thousands of scholarship providers, including national organizations like Hewlett Packard, and Dell, and local scholarships like the Rotary Club, and Kiwanis.

 Going Merry scholarship winner Christian Mojica
Me, with the first Going Merry scholarship recipient, Christian Mojica, a first-generation college student in San Lorenzo, California. Having one place for all scholarships allowed him to submit 30 applications. His scholarships are helping him pay for his studies at the University of California, Davis.

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During that growth, the basic structure of our Going Merry platform has remained the same–but we’ve added new features, in response to student and counselor feedback. For example, we now have:

  • A rich range of filters (like “Estimated application completion time”)
  • Scholarship Bundles that compile scholarships with similar essay prompts to apply for in one application
  • External scholarships so that we can match students to high-quality scholarships even if they have their own applications hosted outside our website

But we’ve also gone beyond scholarships, to begin touching on financial aid. That’s because the whole financial aid system is broken too; in fact, I wrote a whole op-ed in The New York Times about it. That’s why Going Merry also offers:

Looking back, I’m proud of how far we’ve come. But I also know there’s a lot of work ahead. We want to be not just the best scholarship search engine, and not just the best (and only!) scholarship application platform, but also the premier resource for students making financially-savvy decisions about where to go to college and how to pay for it. There’s lots more to come.

Interested in a better scholarship or FAFSA application process?

Sign up as a counselor here, or as a student here.

If you’re a principal or school district representative, you might be interested in sponsoring our FAFSA® Made Easier for your students.

Charlie Maynard
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